09 June 2009

Why I chose to be a teacher

Today, (9June2009) there was a news item that said that 'police and teachers are back in demand'. Pretty amusing, if a cynical caption. Are we coming a full circle then? To the days when both the good - like the Pandavas - and the not so good - like the Kauravas - revered their guru equally? I think not. I think, this is a case of supply and demand. Someone out there is cutting his losses.

But even in the heydays of software and finance, there were still those who would not change their teacher's way of life for anything in the world. Here is an essay from one such teacher. It was written about six years ago. This got an award in a essay competition organised by Scholastic India. It was titled 'Why I chose to be a teacher'.

It was an age of doctors, engineers, civil servants and architects. Software engineers had not been invented – and there was no space for teachers: neither in environment nor in the advertisement columns. School teachers were convenient appendages in the system. They just happened. Teachers, especially school teachers, were taken for granted. Schools needed them. Indeed, society needed them. But why one would become a teacher was nobody’s case. One aspired to be a doctor, civil servant even a movie star but never a teacher. A teacher was never a celebrity, never a pin up material – barring our quintessential teacher, Dr S Radhakrishnan. Most times teachers were not in the news, not even for the wrong reasons; like striking work before examinations, like taking tuition on the sly. Why then did I choose to be a teacher? Let me explain.

I never aspired to be one who would leave her footprints on the sands of time. But I did want to stand tall. I did want to go that extra mile. When I passed my X class, some choices had to be made. I chose the humanities stream. This choice closed three options. I could never become a doctor, engineer or an architect. I still had the option to become a civil servant and I set my sights on becoming an IAS officer.

When I finished graduation, however, I walked up to a school and asked the Principal if there was any opening in the school for a teacher. What was my motivation? I really don’t know. Perhaps, I had walked in just to test the waters. Or, perhaps, encouragement from my family had egged me on. My family held the teaching profession in high esteem. The family thought teaching to be the most respectable profession for a young girl.

I got the job. Even for a moment I did not doubt that this was only a stop gap arrangement. I was convinced that teaching was really not my forte. Even as I taught, I got myself enrolled for post graduate studies to keep the windows of my dreams open.

But something inexplicable was happening to me. As I taught, I got inexorably drawn towards the students. It was incredible how students reposed implicit faith in the teacher. It was impossible not to respond. But, instinctively, I fought back. This was not what I wanted to do? Teaching nursery rhymes to kindergarten children? No way!

In the meanwhile, I graduated from teaching kindergarten children to teaching primary school children. I also finished my post graduation

An idea was germinating in my mind. Would this acorn become an oak? One had to wait and see. This small idea persuaded me to enrol myself for a B Ed course.
I was doing a little bit of country trotting after my marriage owing to my husband’s transferable job. In a different town in a different environment we were watching the ‘Aarti’(See Note1 below) at the Durga Mandap (See Note2 below). Presently, a young boy came up to me and touched my feet. He asked me if I remembered him. He was my student from Kanpur. I was too stunned to reply and vaguely nodded. In this age of ‘hi and bye’ this was a novel yet sobering experience. At that instant something clicked inside me and I crossed my Rubicon. At that moment I said to myself, ‘This is it! I am going to be a teacher and a good one at that! It had taken me some years to cross the threshold, but as things became clearer, I reflected that it was amazing how I had been unconsciously resisting a thing which I enjoyed most. Where can one get such untainted love and affection? Where can one be on the learning curve throughout ones life?

As I took off my blinkers, I realised that this is what I always wanted to be. This is where I belonged. No pushing files and papers for me. Thirty young minds with three hundred ideas; every class was a revelation. No two lectures had similar response. Thirty different answers to one question! My mind and heart grew younger with each passing day. Where was this generation gap that we all talk about? If there was indeed one, I had bridged the gap. Or at least I had become the bridge itself. I felt humbled when parents came up to me to discuss their wards; sometimes with diffidence, sometimes with exasperation. Some parents even wanted me to initiate reconciliation with their wards. They wanted me to be the bridge between them and their children. When I say ‘me’ I humbly believe that I am speaking for the majority of teachers around the globe. Indeed, teachers are expected to bring around recalcitrant teenagers, catch up with a precocious ten year old and even mother a six year old boarder. It is an onerous responsibility and I relish it. The curiosity of the students sends me scampering to the library and the Net and yet I enjoy the learning process like never before. With tingling anticipation I often wait to be stumped by a brilliant question. It is a timeless, open ended challenge and I have been overtaken more than once by it. But it is pure joy to be overwhelmed by a youngster’s incisive question. God bless her for that open mind: my choice has led me to touch tomorrow. Yes, teachers are children of a better God.

There is no disquiet in me now. There is only a firm belief that teaching is the best thing that has happened to me. I would wish the same for me again in another life. No more, no less.

Yet, often I hear this refrain in polite conversations and in smoky-cabin talk, “Who wants to become a teacher, anyway?” To that I am reminded of a nice English song which had these lines tucked away somewhere:
‘… and nice guys get washed away like the snow and the rain.’ To that I say: nice guys don’t get washed away. They become teachers. But yes, nice guys are in short supply.

-Mita Roy

Note1: 'Aarti' is performed in front of Hindu gods and goddesses to pay obeisance. Incense sticks are normally used to perform 'Aarti'.

Note2: 'Durga Mandap' is a community prayer area or hall, often constructed temporarily during a specific time in the year, for offering prayers to goddess Durga, the goddess of Shakti, or power.


Stephen C said...

Fantastic post! Enjoyed it! Terrific insight on the teaching profession and those who are pondering it!


shweta said...

Remarkable eye opener...and quite encouraging!!
Though I couldnot opt this profession, perhaps I could still be a teacher, in someway or the other, to few lives that I touch.

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